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Democrats eye a majority on the Washoe County Commission


by Kingkini Sengupta, Nevada Current

In the Washoe County Commission District 5 race, a victory for Democrat challenger Edwin Lyngar over incumbent Republican Jeanne Herman could create a 3 to 2 Democratic majority on the commission. 

Democrats – and at least one Republican – say flipping the seat would help relieve political tensions in the county. 

‘It is time to change the Republican narrative of tearing things down,” says Washoe County Democratic Party chair Sarah Mahler, who believes that the end of traditional Republican control of the commission will help in binding the community and uniting people against what she characterized as Republican divisiveness.

Citing baseless claims of election fraud, Herman earlier this year backed a proposal requiring that county elections be conducted with hand-counted paper ballots only, and using the National Guard at polling sites. The proposals were rejected in March by a 4 to 1 vote, the only vote in support coming from Herman.

Herman won the seat on the commission in 2018 with 52% of the vote, and barely won the Republican primary this year with 45% of the vote. Following the remapping of commission districts in 2020, District 5 is now more Democratic leaning than it was in 2018. 

Herman “is a threat to democracy and to peoples’ voting rights,” says progressive activist Bob Fulkerson.

Wendy Leonard, who finished a competitive second to Herman in the GOP primary, now supports Lyngar, the Democrat.

Leonard says she has seen several instances in the commission that made her believe that Herman was not only an unresponsive commissioner to the citizens but also had poor participation when it came to any county matters. 

Citing the example of the lengthy redistricting process which the county undergoes every ten years, Leonard, who serves on the North Valleys Citizen Advisory Board, said that Herman did not take part in the process in any “verifiable” way. 

“But when it came for a vote, she voted no for the proposed redistricting against all of  the other commissioners who participated in the process,” Leonard added. 

“She is more of an obstructionist than a participating member of the Commission,” Leonard said. 

Herman did not respond to requests for an interview.

Leonard is supporting Lyngar because she believes he is a moderate Democrat whose “thoughts don’t always follow party lines.” 

One Democrat, commissioner Alexis Hill from District 1, is not up for reelection this year. In District 3, candidate Mariluz Garcia is running against Republican Denise Myer to fill the seat being vacated by fellow Democrat Kitty Jung, who has been on the commission since 2007. Jung won her last reelection bid in 2018 with nearly 70% of the vote.

District 5 is the county’s largest geographically, covering 89 percent of Washoe County. Although mostly rural, it also includes developed regions like the North Valleys. 

Lyngar, a yoga studio owner who lives in northwest Reno, says he wants to prioritize affordable housing while partnering with private and public businesses. 

Both Republicans and Democrats “have sometimes demonized developers in this community,” says Lyngar, adding he wants to prioritize business development in his district to be able to provide solutions for affordable housing. 

Lyngar’s approach has won him support from developers. Peter Lissner, owner of Lifestyle Homes, says that Lyngar favors “smart growth.”

“We want a commissioner who works for us,” Lissner said, indicating that Herman has mostly thwarted developers whenever they wanted to approach her for side discussions on different projects. Herman has refused to meet them outside of stipulated ten minutes that the builders would get to share their proposal on the county agenda. 

“We prefer an open door policy and meetings with the commission,” Lissner said. 

Leonard, who introduced Lissner and Lyngar, echoed the former’s complaint that Herman not only votes against development, but has consistently refused to speak to developers. 

Lyngar says the idea of having “no development” is not a solution. “We need common sense solutions to build affordable housing,” he adds, asking “Where will my children live if there is no development?” 

“I want small homes, green buildings, xeriscape landscaping, I want to have all these things that we can do to make buildings environmentally friendly,” Lyngar said. “I want to talk with developers and push them to make development sustainable,” he adds. 

Lyngar says partisanship makes people pick teams and vilify each other. “We don’t need our communities to be torn apart at the Washington level,” he said.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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